Lebanese Butcher Restaurant Has Great Food, So-So Service
Lebanese food is not for the faint of heart. Liberal use of onions, raw garlic, lemon juice, and tangy yogurt can translate into some pretty potent dishes. But sometimes you’ve just got to have it. The craving hits and the next thing you know you’re inhaling a shawarma sandwich and thinking of how you’ll cover up the inevitable garlic breath when you get back to the office.
Luckily, the options in Falls Church and the surrounding area are plentiful and pretty decent across the board. The Lebanese Butcher and Restaurant, though, seems to have separated itself a bit from the pack.
Located in the heart of the City, this mom and pop joint won’t win any beauty contests. There are nine or ten small tables and a few pictures of Lebanon on the peeling walls, but beyond that don’t expect much else in the way of décor. And if you’re looking to be pampered by servers, just turn around and walk out the door (or do takeout). It’s usually a one or two person operation, with the woman behind the register often being the one who brings out the food.
So what? When the cooking is as homey and unpretentious as it is, it’s hard to complain about aesthetics and service that leaves a little to be desired.
The standout appetizer in my few visits is undoubtedly the fried kibbeh, one of the crown jewels of Lebanese cooking. Though there are infinite variations across the Middle East, the classic fried kibbeh involves a thin bulgur and lamb shell encasing a moist filling of ground lamb, spices, and pine nuts. Some area restaurants cook theirs ahead of time, rendering it soft and soggy after an hour or so. Here it comes out fresh, with a crisp, almost crackly exterior and a subtly spiced filling.
The lemony baba ghanoush isn’t a bad way to start either. It’s velvety yet light, and a far cry from the acrid tasting tubs of the popular eggplant and tahini puree that you find in supermarkets. It would be nice if it and the rest of the starters were accompanied by some hot, house-made bread. Alas, the only thing available here is dry and store bought, which simply can’t stand up to the lively food it comes with.
The rest of menu is filled mostly with lamb and chicken delicacies, the chicken shawarma sandwich being particularly addictive. It comes wrapped in flatbread (still from a package, but better than the pita and well crisped from time spent on a flat top) with cucumber pickles, lettuce, sumac-dusted onions, and a dreamy garlic sauce that packs a punch. You’ll want a stick of gum at the ready when you walk out the door. Unfortunately, the sandwich doesn’t come with fries or any sides, so unless you’ve got a small appetite, I’d order an appetizer to go along with it.
If that’s all the Lebanese Butcher and Restaurant had to offer, it would be a pleasant place to have a meal. But what makes it unique and truly worth a trip is that the restaurant shares a wall with a butcher shop owned by the same man, Kheder Rababeh. He gets certified halal chicken, lamb, and goat from his slaughterhouse in Warrenton, and then uses the same meat available at the butcher’s counter to make most of the stuff on the menu at the restaurant.
The butcher shop, which is actually older than the restaurant, is also well stocked with Middle Eastern dried and canned goods, pickles, dairy products, and olives. It’s the perfect place to walk around while you’re awaiting a takeout order. The challenge is to try and get out of there with just the food from the restaurant. Good luck.
By Jimmy Scarano
June 26, 2009